Wednesday, October 01, 2014

West Franklin mulls how to pay for upgrades in wake of failed 2013 bond issue

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 2/12/2014

POMONA — Repairs and upgrades are coming to West Franklin.

But three big questions remain: Which projects will get top priority? How much will it cost? And how will the school district pay for it?

POMONA — Repairs and upgrades are coming to West Franklin.

But three big questions remain: Which projects will get top priority? How much will it cost? And how will the school district pay for it?

The West Franklin school board voted Monday night to move ahead with an investment-grade energy audit — at a cost of $20,186 — by Energy 360 Solutions and ultimately repair and upgrade projects designated by the board.

The board received a presentation from Energy 360 at its January meeting where the auditor put together a list of projects, in order of importance, that needed to be addressed by the district. The next step would be for the board to designate the projects it thinks are most important, without going over its $700,000 budget.

“You may recall that at the time of the [2013] bond proposal, the board went on record as committing $1.7 million [to upgrades and projects within the district],” Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin superintendent, said. “That is no longer an option. The reality is that $1.7 million was all of the capital outlay and contingency reserve which would’ve emptied the bank, so if there were other improvements that needed to be attended to, those would have to come out of the general fund or supplemental general fund because there wouldn’t be any contingency.”

The savings from some of the proposed projects from Energy 360 would eventually pay off the cost of the upgrades, but it would take too long, Curt Altic, board member, said.

“Our savings [account] isn’t going up,” Altic said. “What I’m saying is, I don’t feel like we can spend a lot of money on some of the energy savings that, yeah it’s there, but we’re not going to gain enough back to make up the difference of what we’ve paid out.”

Among some of the upgrades Energy 360 suggested were Internet-based thermostats at the Williamsburg shop building and district-wide high bay and parking lot lighting — things Jackie Robbins, board president, said the district could do without, and could tailor the upgrades to be in line with the board’s budget.

“We don’t need to be putting a computerized thermostat down at ’Burg in a shop that’s used for storage,” Robbins said. “Why not, instead of going for the Appanoose heating and air conditioning, because now we’re looking at a district that we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, and if we go on a replace-as they-break-down system instead. That’d be a better plan in my opinion.”

The HVAC units at Appanoose Elementary School was the No. 1 priority listed on the initial audit from Energy 360. Robbins said she would like to see electrical upgrades for Williamsburg Elementary School and West Franklin High School, sewer upgrades at the high school and air conditioning for the main gym at the high school — keeping the majority of the upgrades at the Pomona campus.

“As far as money being spent, it primarily is being spent on the Pomona campus,” she said. “That way if the Williamsburg project [based learning] doesn’t do what we want it to do, then we’ve spent the money where we’re going to have to move the kids to.”

Not doing any upgrades at all isn’t what the patrons want, Matt Froggatte, board vice president said, and that path wouldn’t go over well if the board had to look to patrons to find a way to pay for the improvements, as opposed to doing what it can with the money it has.

“My thought is twofold,” Froggatte said. “One, [patrons] want to see something done, and two, if we do need something down the road and you’ve really made an effort, people are more receptive to opening their pocketbooks or passing a bond if you need that down the road. But if you haven’t done anything but replace some AC units when they burn out and put in some new wire when it turns black, then you don’t get much of the sentimental vote.”

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